As well as the ACAS early conciliation scheme, there are three other changes coming into force in the next few weeks which will affect employers.
First to arrive, on 10 March, will be the reduction in the rehabilitation periods for less serious criminal offences. The rules which require offenders to declare all their convictions when working in sensitive workplaces will remain unchanged.
Next in line will be two further changes applying to employment tribunal litigation, which will start to take effect from 6 April. From that point the statutory questionnaire procedures will be abolished and new penalties will be introduced for employers that are guilty of “aggravated” breaches of employment law.
The abolition of the statutory questionnaire procedures will not stop potential claimants from asking questions in advance of proceedings. In many cases it will still be in employers’ interests to answer at least some of the questions posed. ACAS has published guidance which suggests how answering and responding to questions should be approached in the absence of these formal procedures.
The power to award penalties will be triggered where a tribunal decides that an employer has breached “any of the worker’s rights to which the claim relates” and is of the opinion that the breach has one or more aggravated features. If the tribunal decides that a penalty is appropriate, it will normally be 50% of the compensation awarded, subject to a cap of £5000. The penalty will be reduced by half if the employer pays up within 21 days.
Both these changes will take a while to feed through. That’s because transitional provisions make it clear that potential claimants will still be able to use the questionnaire procedure where the alleged discrimination took place prior to 6 April, and the power to award penalties will not apply to proceedings issued before that date.